The Deaf Institue, Manchester
January 29th 2022
Freya Thomson visits the Deaf Institute to see Martin ‘Sugar’ Merchant, Maxi, Sean and Robin make a long-overdue return to Manchester for Audioweb’s first hometown gig on their much-anticipated comeback trail.
The King is Back Again! Sugar walked onto the stage, unsmiling, assertive. There was no support act – there was no need anyway. These fans have been waiting too long to hear Audioweb play live again, and they didn’t want to wait any longer. The band took up their positions on the stage to a surge of cheers. Sugar looked lean and imposing as he strode onto the stage, looking like he had barely aged since the band’s mid 90s heyday. The enthusiasm in the crowd was tangible with raucous shouting, cheering and clapping. Sugar eyeballed the crowd, familiarising himself with being on the stage once again. Then it was straight into Audioweb’s recent release King played live for only the second time ever (following their first comeback show in Camden on Friday night).
King was released last September on Nuff Niceness Records. It’s a deeply personal song about self-belief… “All we need is someone to believe in us” Sugar sang in his distinctive voice in a genuine heartfelt manner. The lyrics touch on religious themes with a powerful backing that encompasses dub and a twist of Morricone style western themes. It sounded like vintage Audioweb, but with added strength and drive. The same can be said for the other new tracks unveiled on stage, which in some measure can be attributed to the brilliant idea to supplement the band with a horn section (trumpet and trombone) – “Audioweb Plus” as described by Sugar himself. Then it was straight into Sleeper. Arguably one of the band’s best songs, the crowd became even more animated when they heard the distinctive opening riff. The loyal followers sang all the lyrics along with the frontman’s encouragement.
Audioweb pulled off the great balancing act of playing the expected crowd-pleasing favourites but mixing in a handful of new tracks that they have been working on for the past 12 months. The new songs blended in seamlessly alongside the classic ones. The standout songs were undoubtedly King, Sleeper, Bankrobber, Into My World and Policeman Skank, although they made the brave but justifiable decision to finish their set with yet another new song, the brooding and driving I & I.
Only a few individuals are made to be performers. Martin ‘Sugar’ Merchant is one of them. Confidence and charisma emanated from him – the audience were genuinely enthralled. Though his entrance may have been cool, confident, unsmiling and typically Manc, it was by no means a cold performance. He talked to the audience, joked with them, and though born and raised in Manchester, he twists and turns between his natural Manc accent and the Jamaican patois of his heritage. It worked. He did everything a good frontman should, and more. Having said that, the gig wasn’t just a one-man show. Maxi and Sean laid down an immovable and powerful dub backbeat that allowed Robin the space to throw his full range of angular power chords and effects over the solid rhythm to produce something that could only be Audioweb. They are all tremendous musicians and seem to have gotten even better with the passing of time. The affection and admiration felt in the room towards the band is obvious. But this is more than just nostalgia – Audioweb in 2022 are alive and seriously kicking. They have been prolific, working on new songs before these two gigs and if the ones we heard at The Deaf Institute are indicative of what we heard then a new album has the potential to be their best ever.
This was a special night for the band and the fans alike. “Don’t leave it so late next time” one fan shouted. “Move back to Manchester Sean” yelleded another. There is an unshakeable bond between Audioweb and their fans, and not even 23 years apart can break that.
Words and photos by Freya Thomson, you can find her author profile here.